I have been in Sydney this week to visit my husband's family and also attend a national conference on suicide postvention. The conference has brought together people bereaved by suicide with organisations working in the field of suicide postvention, to discuss the need for services in this area and reducing the stigma around suicide. Pretty heavy topic! It was great though, particularly hearing from brave and inspiring speakers who shared personal stories of how they rebuilt their lives after losing a loved one to mental illness.
However, I have another purpose for this trip to Sydney, one that I'm very excited about. Tonight I will meet, in person, a group of extraordinary women whom I've made friends with through a Facebook-based, peer-run support group for young Australian widows.
These women, about a dozen of us, are flying and driving in from all around the country to meet, hug, laugh and cry together. Some are bringing their children, so they too can connect, and together we've organized a range of activities for the weekend.
I have unfortunately missed the activities planned for Friday night and Saturday, because of the conference, however tonight we're getting all dressed up, leaving the children with babysitters and stepping out for dinner, a few drinks and hopefully a lot of fun together.
This bringing-together of widows is very important to me. Unlike some, I am lucky to have a supportive family, wonderful in-laws and very understanding friends. However I can't imagine how I would have been able to navigate this lonely, scary world, after my husband's death, without the strength and solidarity I've found in my widowed friends.
There is something incredible about the connection I have felt when sitting down with another widow, knowing they just get it. It's like I've been shipwrecked on a deserted island and stumbled across another survivor. I don't need to explain the pain, sadness or the fear. They know. That are walking the same path beside me.
The days after my husband took his life I turned to the internet and found myself in Widowed Village, where I was surprised to make friends with another young Australian widow called Sophie. Sophie had lost her darling Phil only six weeks earlier (the same weekend as my wedding to my husband) and her emails and text messages gave me so much strength over the following weeks and months.
Even though Sophie was only weeks ahead of me on this journey, she gave me hope that I too could hold on for a little bit longer. While she was hurting with the impossible pain of losing her darling, she was also helping me more than she could have imagined - just by being here, showing me that if she could get through another day, so could I.
Late at night, when the sorrow was unbearable and the darkness brought relentless questions that I couldn't answer, Sophie was on the other end of my phone, understanding, crying with me and letting me know I wasn't alone in my nightmare. She was in the nightmare too. I know Sophie's pain was almost too much for her to tolerate, but she has held on, and whenever my pain gets too much I think of how strong she is and it gives me hope again. Sophie is my hero, as is every woman and man who faces the impossible grief that comes with losing the person who was the light in their lives, yet they don't give up hope.
I have been lucky enough to meet Sophie in person earlier this year and will get to see her again tonight - along with other members of our on-line support group whom I already call friends.
To be honest, this catch up couldn't have come at a better time, as this Monday, 9th June, will be my first wedding anniversary. I feel so many different emotions about this but am going to try and take the day as it comes. I'll write more about that next Saturday... But for now it's time for a few French martinis with my widow friends. Watch out Sydney, here we come!